After nearly 7 months of protests and direct action against the Dakota Access pipeline by Native Americans and environmental activists, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the governmental group that originally approved the controversial pipeline in July, has delayed granting the pipeline’s parent company the necessary easements to drill under Lake Oahe and the Missouri River. The delay will remain in effect until “additional discussion and analysis” can take place with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which has led the massive opposition to the project. Tensions between protestors or “water protectors” and the pipeline construction company have escalated in recent months with private and state police violently suppressing dissent against the project.
Assistant secretary of the army Jo-Ellen Darcy said in a statement that the history of “repeated dispossessions” of the Sioux’s territory was part of the reason why the corps wanted to begin talks with the tribe regarding “potential conditions in an easement” that would allow the pipeline’s construction through the Missouri river, the Standing Rock Sioux’s only water supply. Essentially, they are seeking to negotiate concessions to the Sioux that would allow them to condone the granting of an easement to the pipeline company while also attempting to lessen the risks of a spill, which has the potential to endanger the drinking water for three entire states and numerous native tribes. However, the only way to prevent a spill is to keep the pipeline out of the river in the first place.
However, according to Darcy, “while these discussions and analysis are ongoing, construction on or under Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe cannot occur because the Army has not made a final decision on whether to grant an easement.” The tribal chair of the Standing Rock Sioux, David Archambault II, said in a statement that he was “encouraged” by the delay but that “not all of our prayers were answered, but this time, they were heard.” It remains unclear how long the delay will last or if the pipeline company will even respect it. Last week on election day, Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of the pipeline announced it would press on with the final stage of construction despite opposition from the federal government and native tribes and is in the process of “mobilizing drilling equipment.” In September, Obama ordered a temporary halt to construction of the project on federal land until the corps could conduct a new analysis on the situation. However, Energy Transfer Partners ignored that request, making it possible that they will, again, defy the government and suffer no consequences as a result.
Some have also questioned whether any government intervention will be long-lasting with Donald Trump set to assume the office of US president in January. Trump has between $500,000 to $1 million invested in Energy Transfer Partners as well as $500,00 to $1 million invested in Phillips 66, a partner company set to have a 25% stake in the pipeline upon its completion. Trump has previously voiced his support for fossil fuel infrastructure projects, telling TransCanada to resubmit its application for the also controversial Keystone XL pipeline once he assumes the presidency. Even though the government has intervened once again in the fight to stop Dakota Access, its involvement is likely timed to de-escalate tensions and lure the portion of the US public that opposes the pipeline into a false sense of security that the project will not move forward. Given that the pipeline company has ignored the government’s previous attempts at intervention, the opposition must take this time to strengthen itself as further conflicts and escalations are all too likely if and when the pipeline company begins drilling under the Missouri river.